A man who jumped out in front of people at night while wearing a homemade mask has been found guilty of intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress.
Joshua Hunt, 32, of the Claverham area, was convicted of two offences under the Public Order Act when he appeared at Bristol Magistrates’ Court today (Friday 27 October).
He was subsequently told to pay £200 compensation to three different victims and fined £100.
In addition, police have also asked magistrates to make Hunt subject to a Sexual Risk Order due to the investigating officers concerns there was a sexual motivation behind the offences.
The civil order, which has been granted on an interim basis with a further hearing due to take place on 3 November aims to prevent Hunt from repeating his actions and protect the public from further harm.
Hunt was arrested in Bleadon in the early hours of Tuesday 9 May after a woman called police saying a man wearing a full body suit had jumped out in front of her vehicle on Accommodation Road.
Officers were on the scene within three minutes and found Hunt in his van on a track leading into a field.
During a search of his vehicle officers found various items of dark clothing and homemade masks. More masks were later recovered from his house.
The Crown Prosecution Service initially authorised he be charged with affray and other offences in relation the 9 May incident, another in Bleadon two days earlier and another in Cleeve in October last year.
These charges were later reviewed in accordance with the Code for Crown Prosecutors leading to alternative charges under Section 4a of the Public Order Act – intentionally causing harassment, alarm or distress – subsequently being brought in relation to the two Bleadon incidents.
The victim of the 7 May incident detailed in a statement provided to the court ahead of today’s hearing what happened and how it had affected her.
“The person was dressed in black from head to toe in a skintight suit and they had two fairly large white crosses over each eye, the sight really frightened me,” she said.
“I began to shake, I felt as if I was having a panic attack and my initial thought was that this was some kind of abduction attempt. I became very paranoid as I drove along and away from this person, and I could not comprehend what I had witnessed.”
She added: “Thinking back to that night, I can honestly say that this was the most frightened I have ever been. I have never felt fear like that before, or since and I can only describe the scene as like something you see in a horror movie, I was that scared.”
The victim who called police on 9 May said in her statement it was the “worst night of [her] life.”
She told how she had recently left her job as a result of the incident, saying she was “fed up with being scared while travelling to and from work, and constantly having it on [her] mind”.
In her statement she said: “As I came around the corner, this person was dressed in a black, a black shiny suit or something like a ‘gimp suit’.
“[A relative] screamed with fear, and she looked absolutely terrified. Her scream was awful and as I was still driving, I had to control the car to avoid crashing. I screamed, and it terrified me to see this male in the road, it really scared me. I didn’t know what he wanted to do, what his intentions were, and it was just so surreal and eerie.
“I didn’t sleep that night and I still think about that guy in the dark lane every day. When it’s closing time at work, I can feel myself beginning to dread my journey back home and that night was the worst night of my life.”
Hunt had previously been arrested on suspicion of causing a public nuisance in connection with a series of incidents in the Cleeve, Claverham and Yatton areas last year.
These incidents, which were widely reported on by the media, caused significant concern to the local community. In many of them, a man also rolled around the floor and made threatening noises towards the people he appeared in front of late at night.
However, insufficient evidence meant no further action was taken in relation to these offences.
Chief Inspector Jonny Murray, policing commander for North Somerset, said: “The masks worn by Joshua Hunt, which were made out of tights and had faces drawn on them, terrified the people he jumped out on.
“His actions were alarming and caused others to genuinely fear for their safety.
“We took all the reports we received about this behaviour extremely seriously. High visibility patrols were regularly carried out by neighbourhood officers while a senior detective was put in charge of reviewing all the incidents reported to us.
“As soon as we received the call on 9 May we dispatched officers and they arrived at the scene within three minutes. This meant we were able to secure the evidence needed to charge Hunt with the offences he has now been convicted of.”
He added: “In addition to bringing criminal charges, magistrates have also granted us an interim Sexual Risk Order which prohibits Hunt from being in possession of specific items of clothing and acting in certain ways. If he breaches this condition of the order, he could be arrested.
“Behaviour of this kind is completely unacceptable and I hope the criminal charges and civil proceedings we’ve instigated reassure people we will not tolerate offending of this kind.”